Following a four-day jaunt to England and Scotland, Pope Benedict is safely ensconced back in Vatican City, declaring that Catholic faith in Great Britain is alive and well. The Holy See rightly chose to defy would-be assassins who threatened his life and was rewarded with hundreds of thousands of adoring fans - sorry, worshipers. No...flock-members? We'll just say Catholics.
In this op-ed piece on Monday, "The Pope and the Crowds," columnist Ross Douthat spun the numbers of admirers (totaling, by his own account but not laid out by him this way, roughly 5 percent of the Catholics in Great Britain, and less than 1 percent of all Christians in Great Britain) to claim that hey, people love the Pope! Catholicism is making a comeback, people. Who knew?
Douthat claims that even in a time of crisis (and let's add gross systematic incompetence bordering on malevolent negligence), Catholics still support the Pope because he signifies that which does not change about the Church. Catholicism doesn't give in to silly fads, like those crazy Anglicans do, so they stay strong. They also believe in symbolism:
"But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain’s Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican’s critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren’t there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect — for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years."First of all, I find it highly unlikely that Douthat, or anyone, can testify to the state of mind of the 260,000 or so Catholics who showed up to see the Pope. Secondly, I think that some radical change is needed for the Church to sustain itself, in first world countries at least, and that it's logical to hope that that change comes from the top down, i.e. the Pope, but not realistic. The Pope is undeniably a political figure, and every politician wants nothing more than to stay in power. A man who, in some sense or another, controls a billion people throughout the world, is not going to do a thing to loosen that power.
So we need to think about the position of the Pope, and what he represents for the modern world, because he's not really going to do much in the way of changing his position or influence. Do we think that God speaks only through Benedict? Do we believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, who created Heaven and Earth and all the peoples of the world, only likes to speak through old white European men?
I'm not anti-Pope. I just think that it's a useless exercise for him to travel to a country and wave at people just to declare that Catholicism is strong there. That's not helping or changing anything, and God knows - literally - that the European church needs help right now. It's even more of a useless exercise for writers and social critics to take what amounts to a rally as proof that all is well with the 999,740,000 or so Catholics who weren't there. Undoubtedly, some wish they could have been, but many others might, given the chance, decide to spend the day doing something to improve the state of the Catholic Church, instead of bolstering the precarious hold of power of one, single man.